Virtue signaling, part 2

In part 1, I discuss the types of virtue signaling. In part 2, I’ll discuss why people virtue signal. The appeal of virtue signaling is that it confers an upside in terms of social status, but with comparatively little downside risk. The signaler gets the upside of appearing virtuous to his or her peers, but with none of the downside in terms of time commitment and opportunity cost of having to engage in substantitive activism.

Some examples:

-kneeing at a football game
-tweeting or re-tweeting a post or a hashtag such as #metoo or #imwithher, to show ‘solidarity’
-extolling the virtues of diversity

For the last example, affluent white liberals who preach the virtues of diversity and public schools reap the upside in terms of social status for appearing tolerant, but without the downside and commitment of actually having to move to a more diverse neighborhood or having their kids attend a more diverse school. This does not necessarily mean they are disingenuous–perhaps they really care about diversity–but would rather have someone else set an example.

The NFL kneeling situation is more interesting. There is evidence kneeling is hurting NFL attendance and ratings.

NFL ratings down 9 percent this season amid Trump attacks


NFL viewer ratings are down 9 percent overall across all networks, during a season when the league and players have been feuding with President Trump over their right to protest during the national anthem.


Sunday night’s game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers, which aired on NBC, was down 35 percent in viewers from a similarly timed game last year, CNN reported.

Given that kneeling is possibly hurting ratings, it would seem irrational for players to keep kneeling. But because many players are signed into multi-year contracts that pay millions of dollars, they are already paid and hence sheltered from the consequence of their actions. The advertisers, team owners, networks, etc. bear the consequences, not the players. Thus, because player pay is independent of ratings, players (at least for now) shoulder none of the financial downside of kneeling, but reap the upside in terms of appearing virtuous.